After three weeks of successfully preventing COVID-19 from derailing any games, the NFL faced a storm of bad news last week. It started with the Tennessee Titans suffering an outbreak of coronavirus with double-digit players and personnel testing positive. As a result, Tennessee's Week 4 game against the Pittsburgh Steelers was postponed to a later date. On Saturday, Cam Newton also tested positive, forcing the NFL to move Patriots-Chiefs from Sunday afternoon to early Monday evening.
If anybody hoped the NFL could get through a whole season without an outbreak, they haven't been paying attention. This was inevitable, as it always will be for sports leagues that are trying to hold a season without any semblance of a bubble. Even if everyone involved follows protocols to a T, there's still an unquantifiable and impossible to avoid luck factor that plays into the whole equation. Someone was going to test positive. The statistics indicated as much.
What we, the general public, don't yet know is if it was that luck that resulted in these outbreaks or if players and team personnel weren't following the rules. Unlike the situation with the Miami Marlins back in the summer (where we learned fairly quickly that some players had gone out on the town one night and contracted the virus), no one has pinpointed what went wrong and for what reason yet.
To whit, the NFL sent out a letter today reminding everyone that they needed to follow the coronavirus protocols put in place before the season very closely. Notably, for the first time, the league also said that teams found in violation of those protocols could be forced to forfeit a game should an outbreak happen as a result of those violations.
It would be quite something if a team was handed a loss because its players or personnel weren't adhering to coronavirus protocols. But this is what the league has to do. One misstep could derail the entire season. Everyone got lucky, frankly, that only the Titans were impacted by their outbreak. They played a game against the Vikings days before receiving news of the first positive test. It's not hard to imagine a snowball effect that leads to several games getting postponed or canceled, throwing everything out of whack.
The NFL is playing a dangerous game here. Hopefully the looming threat of a forfeit keeps everyone in line, but there's only so much these rules can do. Teams must stay vigilant, and everyone has to hope that nothing goes wrong. That strategy has been met with middling success so far, but the pro football machine apparently will stop for nothing. So hope we shall.